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ISSUE 120 VOL 15 PUBLISHED 3/16/2007

Journalist lectures: Augustine addresses news media

By Jean Mullins
Executive Editor

Friday, March 16, 2007

Journalist Seline Augustine spoke Tuesday in Viking as the second guest speaker in a series connected to the 2006-2007 theme, global citizenship. Director of International and Off-Campus Studies Eric Lund introduced Augustine, describing the purpose of the series of talks as being to foster a global perspective. Augustine, he said, has been a journalist for 30 years and is now an editor at The Hindu, one of the major English daily newspapers in India.

Augustine began by describing India’s rising star in the global economy. Augustine reported that the country’s GDP is currently $930 billion, on its way to $1 trillion, making India the 10th nation to reach that status. She also said that nine million jobs from the developed world have moved to India. She told an anecdote about her son, who is currently studying in France. She said that years ago, Indians living abroad would not return to India because of the lack of opportunities. Now, Augustine said her son is planning on returning to India. "Indian wealth is staying in India and it is growing," she said.

India is also home to 40 percent of the world’s poor and the second largest HIV country in the world.

Augustine described the role of the press in India as being similar to the role of the press in the United States. Like the United States, Indian media has the same freedom of speech. Because of this freedom, newspapers have broken many stories about the government and community and social issues, such as rainwater harvesting to prevent droughts or bribing officials in cricket.

The press is gaining power in India. Augustine said that readership of newspapers and magazines has increased in one year from 216 million to 222 million.

However, newspapers and other media outlets have to be aware of bias, Augustine said. Most newspapers are accused of an urban bias, focusing on the rich and ignoring the large number of poor. Like some Western media outlets, Indian media also covers celebrities who maintain lifestyles that the average poor cannot hope to achieve. “"If media continues to distance itself from the public it cannot be the model it is now,”" Augustine said.

Augustine said that stories about farmers committing suicide because their crops fail and they cannot repay their debts or about the poor donating their kidneys to make money have failed to create as large a stir in the public as a story about a movie star on Britain’s "Celebrity Big Brother."

Augustine described the trend of foreign media in India. While many television stations are foreign or are funded by foreign investors, there is an active debate among some newspapers about whether to allow foreign investment. Some newspapers, including her own, are against such investment.

Augustine described how women were also the victims of discrimination in newspapers, but India’s first woman Prime Minister, Indira Gandhi, changed that. After this, many investigative stories focused on wrongs done to women in society.

As the talk closed with a question and answer session, Augustine said being a woman and a Christian in India means that the odds are “"doubly stacked"” against her. "“It is my duty to push my case,"” she said. She said she tries to write stories about Christian issues, but it ultimately is up to her editors, who edit or do not always run those stories.

“"God has blessed me and used me there,"” she said.

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